Carmarthenshire Archives: The Fait Accompli

Back to the seemingly endless and tangled saga of Carmarthenshire Archives today, and some clear evidence that we are approaching the end game – at least as far as the future location of a new record office is concerned. (The issue of why mould appeared in the strongrooms of the old facility is a very different matter, and one which I suspect is a very long way from the end game; strange to say, the county council has still to comply with my Freedom of Information request on the subject…)

Regular readers of this series of posts won’t be surprised to learn that the clear evidence in question hasn’t emerged from any statement by Carmarthenshire Council. Instead, it’s emerged once again through the significantly more transparent proceedings of the West Glamorgan Archives Committee, whose agenda for their next meeting on 18 September includes a most enlightening report by the county archivist. (My thanks to Susan Beckley for drawing my attention to this.) Those who want to look at the original of this can find it in the public domain here, but in summary, it refers to a further meeting held on 20 July, attended by representatives of Swansea University and Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Carmarthenshire Councils. This produced a statement, drafted with the aid of archive consultant Elizabeth Oxborrow-Cowan, which is now meant to be going to each governing body for approval; Carmarthenshire’s share of the consultancy fees would appear to be £5,000, as the archivist’s report states that this is the one-third share which the existing West Glamorgan partnership is paying. Ms Oxborrow-Cowan’s credentials are certainly impressive, so her input can only be welcome.

The document in question contains its fair share of W1A-like meaningless ‘management speak’ (for example, what, pray, is an ‘audience development aspiration’?) and, unsurprisingly in this day and age, its centrepieces seem to be statements of ‘joint vision’ and, inevitably, ‘mission’. The former states:

‘Connecting global and local audiences with the documentary heritage of our areas in Wales, to enrich lives and communities by inspiring learning, research, discovery and identity.’

No doubt Dylan Thomas could have put it better – come to that, my grandmother could probably have put it better – but chwarae teg, nothing particularly contentious there. As for the mission statement:

‘By 2020 we will create an innovative combined archive service for Carmarthenshire Archive Service, Richard Burton Archives and West Glamorgan Archive Service. It will be located in a purpose-built facility in the Swansea Bay City Region and will be a focus for civic pride. The new service will be known and valued by diverse audiences, bringing together our local and academic communities to foster opportunities for research and exchange. This service will professionally manage, employ and develop the totality of our rich collections to meet stakeholders’ needs and ensure the ongoing curation of the region’s documentary heritage, celebrating its cultural and linguistic diversity. It will radically exploit digital and analogue technologies to create a range of relevant amenities and products for audiences ranging from the local to the international. This will be a high profile organisation, grounded in excellence, with a strong service ethos and a culture of innovation from which others can learn. It will be funded from a diverse range of income streams and will be creative in how it accesses and uses resources.’

It is interesting to note which fashionable ‘buzzwords’ are considered worthy of inclusion in such statements, and those which are now considered thoroughly old-fashioned and politically incorrect: words like ‘history’, ‘researchers’ and ‘manuscripts’, for example. More importantly, the news that they are now part of the ‘Swansea Bay City Region’, a nonsensical concept that must have countless generations of Welsh Geography teachers spinning in their graves, may come as a surprise to the good folk of, say, Llanybydder, Rhandirmwyn and Whitland; while as noted in my previous blog on this subject, a ‘West Wales archives partnership’ that doesn’t include Pembrokeshire would seem to be very much a case of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. However, the most alarming element of this ‘mission statement’ is its reference to ‘by 2020’. What, exactly, is meant to happen to access to the Carmarthenshire Archives before then, especially if, as we are currently being told, the cleaning will be complete and the documents accessible again during the course of next year, 2016? Where will the documents be held for the next four years – perhaps Cardiff, where the documents already cleaned are currently being stored? – and how will they be made available to the public?

(Incidentally, it’s emerged from other sources that apparently some £550,000 has had to be spent on the process of cleaning the mould-damaged documents – and no, I haven’t accidentally mistyped the numbers of fives and noughts.)

The ‘next steps’ identified by the document also raise some interesting questions. These specify that decisions need to be taken on –

  • Scope of the partnership
  • Location for the service (which suggests, perhaps, that a site on Swansea University’s new Fabian Way campus isn’t necessarily a done deal)
  • Governance model and management arrangements
  • Investment requirements / costs / funding options
  • Options for local service delivery (online provision; local hubs; outreach work) (interesting; might there be a small ‘out-office’ or ‘local hub’ in Carmarthen, for example, and will the current family history outreach service in Ammanford, Carmarthen and Llanelli libraries continue? Such provision would at least partly mitigate the move of the main facility to Swansea.)

The conclusion to be drawn from all this is that this partnership now seems to have an unstoppable momentum, especially as the Welsh government has clearly thrown its weight behind it. Therefore, Carmarthenshire Council’s bland assurances to various correspondents, myself included, that it has been considering other sites in the county itself, seem no longer to be worth the paper they’re written on, and any prospect of a partnership with Trinity St David University, an outcome strongly favoured by several interested parties, seems to have been kicked well and truly into the long grass. Whether county councillors will be presented with a list of alternatives before the end of this year, as the council has claimed in the past, or whether that list will contain precisely one option, remains to be seen.

As noted in a number of my previous posts on this issue, there are undoubtedly strong arguments in favour of a joint facility in Swansea. For example, one can say with considerable confidence that such an arrangement will safeguard the future of the archives rather better than if they reminded exclusively under the tender loving care of Carmarthenshire Council. The new facility in question is also likely to be vastly superior to anything that might be provided in the county, and should certainly provide a much better working environment and experience for those researchers who are actually able to get there. The critical issue, as has been pointed out all along, will be access – but who knows, perhaps the ‘Swansea Bay City Region’ will be providing a fast, efficient and integrated transport scheme, covering even its most outlying peripheries?

Methinks we know the answer to that one, mes amis. 

3 Comments

  1. Jo Walton says:

    It’s very difficult to read this post without reflecting on the neglect by Carmarthenshire County Council in looking after our valuable documents. Are they going to be allowed to get away with such neglect which looks as if the result could be losing the safeguarding of records to another county? Perhaps their next mission is to let the Carmarthensire Museum, sited in Abergwili, fall into such disrepair that it will go the same way. One way of them saving money. Shame on the council!

    The committee of the Friends of Carmarthenshire Archives are meeting at the Record Office on Wednesday (Susan Beckley is a member of this committee and will be in attendance). Perhaps we will have further light shed on the situation by staff from the Record Office. Sadly, to date, they remain silent. I will certainly be raising the point of staying local and the feasibility of Trinity.

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  2. gwasygog says:

    “any prospect of a partnership with Trinity St David University, an outcome strongly favoured by several interested parties, seems to have been kicked well and truly into the long grass. ”

    Why? … why not show a glimmer of support for the community.

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